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OZONE PARK, NY – The Empire State’s Kentucky Derby (G1) Trail continues this weekend with the $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3), which drew a solid field of eight 3-year-olds.
The contest is scheduled for race 9 on a loaded card featuring three other stakes, including the Busher Invitational for the Kentucky Oaks (G1). The race’s mile-long distance makes for a unique setting and gives one-turn horses legitimate shots to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Post time is set for 5:07 PM ET.
Headlining the group is the Chad Brown-trained Highly Motivated, who was last seen at Keeneland winning the Nyquist Stakes over a solid group of 2-year-olds. Brown, who won the Withers Stakes (G3) here earlier in the year, gave this colt a bit of time off after that victory and had this race in mind for his first race back. He’ll break from post 3 with Javier Castellano aboard.
“All three of his races have been excellent, they have been outstanding efforts,” said Brown, who trained the 2016 Gotham winner Shagaf. “He certainly has kept good company. That’s the thing about starting these horses at Saratoga in the summer and at Belmont in the fall, you never know who you’ll run into. Looking back, history tells how strong these races are and he was in some pretty strong ones. It looks to be a real solid group of 3-year-olds everywhere, and he’s one of them.”
His main rival will come from the California-based Bob Baffert, who sent the speedy Freedom Fighter here after battling hard on the pace before finishing second in the San Vicente Stakes (G2) to his stablemate Concert Tour. Both horses headed to big preps out of that race, which has recetly been a solid starting point for 3-year-olds. Freedom Fighter drew post 7 and will have Manny Franco aboard.
“He ran a pretty courageous race after some time off to finish second to Concert Tour, who I think is a nice horse,” Baffert said. “I wanted to keep him one turn for now. I’m not sure what his distance limitations are going to be right now, but I think the Gotham is a good step up going from 7/8 (of a mile) to a mile. He should be ready for that.”
The local hopeful is Capo Kane, who cuts back to his preferred 1-mile distance two starts after winning the Jerome Stakes at this distance in impressive fashion. The Harold Wyner trainee was a distance third in the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes (G3) last time out and will break from post 6 with Dylan Davis in the irons.
“I think the cut back to a one-turn mile is going to help him,” Wyner said. “In the Withers, I didn’t really have the screws all the way tight on him because I had missed five days of training and I couldn’t breeze him when I wanted to breeze him. Going into this race, I was able to breeze him when I wanted to and train him as normal.”
The full field from the rail out: Atlantic Road, The Reds, Highly Motivated, Wipe the Slate, Crowded Trade, Capo Kane, Freedom Fighter, and Weyburn.
#3 Highly Motivated – It’s exciting to see him return after an impressive 2-year-old season, when he looked like he had a ton of ability. The layoff is a question mark, but he’s trained well leading up to this race and should be able to use this as a springboard to bigger and better things.
#7 Freedom Fighter – Baffert sent him to the perfect spot because his distance limitations should be hidden in this one-turn mile. He’s clearly the speed of the race as well, which means he will be the one they all have to catch when turning for home. This is probably not a viable Kentucky Derby win candidate, but Baffert has him spotted very well, so there’s a good shot he makes the gate with a win here.
#4 Wipe the Slate – After an impressive maiden special weight victory, this horse started to get some hype but was a non-factor last time out in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. The cut back to the one-turn mile might get him back into top form and he should get a pretty good pace setup. He’s a logical alternative to the two favorites.
#6 Capo Kane – A cut back to the one-turn mile is exactly what this horse needs. This is his comfort zone, so he’ll give it his best effort, but this field is tougher than what he beat in the Jerome.
#5 Crowded Trade – Could the “other” Chad Brown pull off a big upset here? He certainly was impressive on debut here, winning a maiden special weight despite a less-than-perfect trip. He moves up the ladder quickly for his second start, but this isn’t the toughest or deepest Derby prep. He makes some sense if the price is right.
#8 Weyburn – We’ll see if this recent local maiden special weight winner can wheel back in a much tougher spot. He seems to improve with each start, but his speed figures leave a lot to be desired. He’ll need to improve in order to have a shot here.
#1 Atlantic Road – Trainer Todd Pletcher takes a big swing with this recent maiden special winner, throwing him into the deep end of the pool. That win wasn’t overly impressive and Pletcher hasn’t done well in Derby preps so far this year, so we’ll take a wait-and-see approach.
#2 The Reds – It took him 5 starts to to break his maiden, which is never a great sign. He also lacks a bit in the speed figure department, which makes him hard to play in this spot.
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